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'Known by God...and Others': Put Down the Phone and Make the Effort to Connect In-Person

Female friends talking
Female friends talking

Connecting in person with other people on a regular basis is vital to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.  However, today it's easier than ever to avoid genuine communication with other humans, thanks to more people working from home, watching church online, getting food and groceries delivered to our doorstep, and interacting with other people on social media. 

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called loneliness a form of stress that's so harmful it's like smoking daily.  He said the health consequences of loneliness can lead to early death from things like heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

In his book Made for People: Why We Drift Into Loneliness and How to Fight for a Life of Friendship, Justin Whitmel Earley told CBN News that God created us to live in a community and that His purpose is for mankind to experience Him together with other people. 

"We should understand friendship not as a luxury," he said, "but as a necessity to living the good life physically and spiritually." 

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Show Up, Then Speak Up

Earley said while intimacy between husbands and wives is great, God made us to also have friends. 

"I think you cannot be the husband to your wife that you're meant to be, and you can't be the wife to your husband that you're meant to be until you have good covenant friendships outside of your spouse," he said. "No one person can bear all the burdens of another person and no one person can understand everything about another person. So I think we do our marriages an enormous favor when we have really strong same-sex friendships outside of the marriage."

Earley recommends a two-step strategy: show up, then speak up.  The first step involves showing up for regular, standing appointments with the same people, ideally about once a week.  

"This might be going to the small group. This might be adding an accountability group. Or it might just be a conversation on your back porch with a couple friends," he said, "as long as you have it regularly."

Step two involves being vulnerable with each other, which means telling one another our secrets.    

"We were made to be known by God and known by others," Earley said. "The enemy loves it when we keep secrets. He knows he's got a place in our hearts." 

Earley says we should follow the example of Jesus, who knows his friends' weaknesses and loves them anyway.  

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Put Down the Phone

Experts say social media may be the biggest obstacle to healthy relationships. Radiologist Dr. Nicole Saphier told CBN News the loneliness adults as well as young people experience today can often be traced back to smartphones. 

"The receptors in our brain as we scroll through reels, and we get likes on certain things, there are centers in our brains that light up for that. But that's all short lived and all of a sudden we're programming our brain to have these responses from a screen." 

Dr. Saphier points out that while deep, in-person connection is ideal, even a little bit of face-to-face interaction is better than none at all.

"It's OK to say, 'Hi' to a stranger, just a smile, just a quick hello," she said. "You don't know what they're dealing with that day. Not only is it good for your mental health, but it's probably great for theirs as well."

Likewise, Christian parenting expert Kelly Newcom, founder of Brave Parenting, told CBN News parents should make the effort to get rid of the devices, look their kids in the eyes, and engage in meaningful conversations.

"It's so easy nowadays for families to come home and they just sort of isolate all separately into their own bedrooms, and usually online," she said.

Newcom recommends parents take the lead in facilitating in-person gatherings for their children.

"Make your home the place that you invite the friends over, buy a bunch of snacks, and maybe they watch a movie," she said. "But you got to take the phones out of their hands."

Look to Israel

In an interesting twist, despite their access to smartphones, the internet, and social media, Israelis have next to no self-reported loneliness.  

"Communities don't create rituals, rituals create communities," Dan Senor, former White House foreign policy advisor and author of The Genius of Israel: The Surprising Resilience of a Divided Nation in a Turbulent World told CBN News. 

Senor points out how Israelis bond over regular Hebrew rituals, such as the weekly holiday Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.  

"If you go walk by any home in Israel on a Friday night, you'll see, whether they're secular Jews or they're very religious, traditional, observant Jews, they're all doing the same thing," he said. "And so there's this weekly ritual that brings people together."

In addition to rituals, Senor said beginning at an early age, Israelis are instilled with a sense of patriotism in which they feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, as opposed to being instilled with exclusively the motivation for individual achievement. 

"The whole notion of living in Israel is about togetherness," he said, "not just about doing whatever you do successfully on your own." 

So in the U.S., where far too many people struggle with loneliness, experts recommend making an effort to change course, by putting down the phone and prioritizing in-person relationships. 


  * Top Psychiatrist Says 'Go Back to Church' as Loneliness Now a Major US Health Threat

  * The 'Genius of Israel' Offers Hope in Midst of War

WATCH: An Epidemic of Loneliness | Faith vs. Culture


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